Despite building a lead of almost nine minutes in his Ford Fiesta RRC, Yazeed Al Rajhi’s bid to win the WRC support category on Vodafone Rally de Portugal ended in despair when a broken cross member forced him to retire on Sunday morning.
It handed first place to a shocked Hayden Paddon who scored his maiden win in the class at Al Rajhi’s expense as Maciej Oleksowicz and Pedro Meireles completed the podium.
Paddon had seemingly dropped out of contention on Friday when an electrical fault grounded his Skoda Fabia. But he fought back to seal an unlikely win, despite an alternator wire fault on Sunday’s third stage giving him a fright.
“We wanted to come here to win, but we didn’t win it like we wanted to,” said the New Zealander, Production Car world champion in 2011. “We’re happy though and I’ve always said to finish first, first you have to finish. There’s a lot more to come from the car and from me. We’re looking forward to New Zealand for the next round.”
Al Rajhi’s co-driver Michael Orr said: “Not even a nine-minute lead is enough. It was incredible, it was a small dip in the road. It was unbelievable, the cross member just snapped. Ironically we weren’t even trying to build the lead, we were just trying to drive slowly, even though the time kept coming.”
For Oleksowicz, in a Fiesta S2000, the event provided the Polish driver with his best finish in the SWRC, while Portugal’s Meireles was competing as a wildcard entrant in a Mitsubishi Lancer R4.